How a Tennis Fan Gets a Golf Fan all Uppity: Mention Simple Fact that Golf Isn’t a Sport

Golf makes muscles flex

Tennis and golf both sports?

Tennis fans really should be patient with golfers. I mean, how are golfers supposed to know there’s a difference between sweating from running down a ball and sweating from just standing there in the sun too long. In long pants. While you wait for your in-competition servant to finish cleaning your shoes?

Well, the British Open has started, and it seems like a good time to bring out a recent debate I had with writer Ed Sherman in the book he and Leonard Shapiro wrote called “Golf List Mania!’’ It’s a pretty sharp book, with all sorts of fun lists. Some come from contributors including Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

And me. A few years ago when I was a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times, I wrote a few pieces casually mentioning that indisputable fact that golf is not a sport. Every tennis fan knows that. But golfers? They get testy about it, defensive. Little veins pop out of their necks while they hop around in anger.

Oh yeah, they say? Well, if golf isn’t a sport, then how come top athletes, such as Michael Jordan, can’t seem to master it?

You see how irrational they get? What kind of an argument is that? If athletes can’t play it, that actually is evidence that it’s not a sport.

Anyway, Sherman was the golf writer at the Chicago Tribune at the time. He’s at Crain’s Chicago Business now. So while he and Shapiro, golf writer at the Washington Post, were writing this book, they decided to have the debate between tennis fan (me) and golf fan (Sherman).

Keep in mind, I’ve been a golf writer at the Sun-Times, and also at the Savannah News-Press. I’m a member of the golf writers association, as well as the International Tennis Writers Association.

Here are our lists, excerpts straight from the book.

Golf Isn’t A Sport By Greg Couch

Greg Couch currently is a columnist for AOL Fanhouse. Previously, he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times, where his assignments included covering the golf beat. Always provocative, Couch’s view on golf is likely to anger many readers of this book. While we thought about printing his phone number and address, we decided it probably wasn’t a good idea. Here is Greg’s list.

8. Maid service. In what sport does an athlete not even carry his equipment into battle? The caddie carries clubs, cleans shoes. If you’re dragging along a built-in maid service? Not a sport.

7. An objective observer. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that golf is not a sport. Basically. When Casey Martin wanted a cart to accommodate his disability, the activity’s governing bodies cried that it would give him an advantage, as others had to walk. The court ruled that walking is not integral to the game. Basically.

6. Walking is aerobic. Yes, minimally. But it’s not challenging. A finely tuned athlete could not possibly have difficulty walking five miles. Not to mention, golfers take a break after every shot. That’s 70 breaks. I know there are hills on a golf course, too. That almost makes the argument more embarrassing.

Put it this way: Walking five miles for a round of golf in four hours is going, roughly, two feet per second. It is 50 feet from my couch to my fridge, round trip. At golf’s “aerobic” pace, I would have 25 seconds to get a beer, come back and sit down. It only takes 21.

5. Tom Watson. When he almost won the British Open in 2009, it was thrilling. I was there. Imagine a 59-year old winning a major championship in a sport. No, I can’t imagine it, either. Watson nearly buried the golf-is-a-sport argument, a year after old Greg Norman nearly won. No way can a 59-year old beat the young guys at the highest level of a sport.

Larry Bird is in his early- to mid-50s. You think he could play in the NBA today?

4. Tiger Woods. Woods has muscles and is fit. How can you say he isn’t an athlete? Good question. And even golf fans who didn’t like Woods were glad to have him around just for this argument. Woods might be an athlete, but that’s not related to golf.

I would say this: If you work in an office, you might find the people in your mailroom are muscular, too. That’s why you pick them for the company softball team. Does that make sorting mail sport?

3. Beer gut. John Daly is the poster child. Craig Stadler used to be. Too many others to name. Daly used to be fat, but now isn’t. No matter how much golf he played, he couldn’t lose the weight. He needed Lap-band surgery. True, David Letterman once called former baseball pitcher Terry Forster a “fat tub of goo.’’ Sumo wrestlers, offensive linemen aren’t fit. You can find examples of anything.

But you cannot play basketball all day and be fat. With golf, you can do it all day long and still need the Lap-Band.

2. Ken Venturi.  More than 45 years ago, Ken Venturi got tired while playing golf in the sun at Congressional for the U.S. Open. This is the oldest, most desperate argument among the golf-is-a-sport crowd. His feat in 1964 was incredible.

But getting really tired from walking does not make golf a sport. The tired you get from golf isn’t like the tired you get from sports, but rather the weary-legged feel you get when your wife drags you shopping all day. Shopping is not a sport.

1. It’s just a name.  Nothing gets golfers more uppity than when you inform them that their activity isn’t a sport. I understand. Activities are knitting, checkers, bird-watching. Golfers don’t want to be knitters. They want to be athletes. Yet golf doesn’t require any more running than Monopoly does. It offers no more aerobic challenge than mowing the lawn–with a self-propelled mower.

Golf is not a sport. Whatever you call it, though, that doesn’t change what’s required. It takes coordination, flexibility, some strength — or girth — and the ability to tip the servant carrying your bag, cleaning your shoes, giving you sandwiches during battle.

Honestly, it’s tough. But a sport needs rules, competition, physical skills and, sorry golf, aerobic challenge.

My theory on the popularity swing from tennis to golf: Tennis was the boom sport in the 1970s, and when the players got old and a little tired, they looked for a place to sit down. Checkers was too sedentary. Their answer: golf.

Golf is a sport

The age-old debate over whether golf is a sport really gets me riled up. I’ve had the debate many times with AOL Fanhouse columnist Greg Couch. I decided to bring our debate to these pages. Keep in mind, Couch is a tennis buff. Name me four players beyond the Williams sisters, Federer, and Nadal. Nuff said?

Anyway, let the debate begin.

8. Fat linemen. If you’re going to discount golf as a sport because players like John Daly (the fat version), Tim Herron and Craig Stadler don’t have chiseled bodies, then I’ll present to you the image of the 340-pound offensive lineman with 60 pounds of flab hanging over his gut. Technically, all they do is stand up and try to get in somebody’s way. Carl Lewis, they’re not. I know there’s much more involved in being a lineman, especially with footwork. Hey, fat guys can be athletes, too. Don’t diss golfers just because they like cheeseburgers and beer in mass quantities.

7. Stationary sports. Golf also takes a hit because there isn’t any running involved. Following that logic, are we to assume that track and field events such as shot put and javelin aren’t sports? What about diving? All you’ve got to do is fall forward. And really, is a pitcher moving any more than a golfer?

6. Endurance. If you think playing golf is a leisurely activity, try walking 18 holes on a hilly course on a humid 93-degree day. Then do it for six straight days, including practice rounds and pro-ams. The pros do it routinely during the summer. Just like other sports, the endurance factor is huge in golf. If you can’t handle the hills and heat, you’ll be a goner. I’m guessing 95 percent of those fat linemen wouldn’t make it through nine holes.

5. It’s difficult. If golf isn’t a sport, then how come the best athletes in the world can’t master it? Jerry Rice might have been the best football player ever, yet he shot a round in the 90s when he tried to tee it up on the Nationwide Tour. Michael Jordan only dreams of being a professional golfer. Yes, golf is a hard sport.

4. Steroids. Sadly, if you can take steroids to improve your performance, then you’re a sport. Golf falls under that category. Golf was way behind the curve on this, but officials finally did institute testing for performance enhancing drugs. Just like sports such as baseball and football, golf reacted to curb a potential problem.

3. Physical toll. Golf actually is a dangerous sport for players at the highest level. The golf swing is a highly unnatural move, and years of pounding usually finds most players on the operating table at some point. Tiger Woods already has had four knee surgeries. Bill Glasson has had more than 20 surgeries on his knees, elbows, and back. If you’re not getting operated on, chances are your back feels as if you’ve been in 40 accidents. That’s in a week, not a life. Play the sport of golf at your own risk.

2. Strength, flexibility, coordination. Like every other sport, you need strength, flexibility, and superb hand-eye coordination to play golf. Even when John Daly was fat, he had incredible flexibility that allowed him to wrap the club around his neck. Just ask Tiger Woods if it helps to be strong in golf. His success had a bevy of other players following him to the weight room. The ball may be stationary, but to get it to draw over that tree or to make it land like a feather to that tight pin over a bunker, you need hand-eye coordination that is off the charts. Strength, flexibility, coordination: Yep, sounds like a sport to me.

1. Competitive edge. Just like the other sports, the mental aspect is huge in golf. The player who can think his way around the course, who can handle and overcome adversity, who can stare down an opponent, who can will the putt in the hole with everything on the line, always will reign supreme in golf. Michael Jordan had it in his sport. Tiger Woods has it in his sport.

So yes, Greg, golf most definitely is a sport. Now don’t get me started on tennis.

About gregcouch

I can talk tennis all day long, and often do. And yet some of the people I talk to about it might rather I talk about something else. Or with someone else. That’s how it is with tennis, right? Sort of an addiction. Sort of a high. I am a national columnist at and a FoxSports1 TV insider, and have been a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2010, I was the only American sports writer to cover the full two weeks of all four majors, and also to cover each of the U.S. Masters series events. I’ve seen a lot of tennis, talked with a lot of players, coaches, agents. I watched from a few rows behind the line judge as Serena rolled her foot onto the baseline for the footfault, a good call, at the 2009 U.S. Open. I sat forever watching a John Isner marathon, leaving for Wimbledon village to watch an England World Cup soccer game at a pub and then returning for hours of Isner, sitting a few feet from his wrecked coach. I got to see Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling joke around on a practice court on the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, placing a small wager on a tiebreaker. Djokovic won, and Soderling pulled a bill out of his wallet, crumpled it into his fist and threw it at Djokovic, who unwadded it, kissed it, and told me, “My work is done here.’’ And when Rafael Nadal won the French Open in 2010, I finished my column, walked back out onto the court, and filled an empty tic tac container with the red clay. I’m looking at it right now. Well, I don’t always see the game the same way others do. I can be hard on tennis, particularly on the characters in suits running it. Tennis has no less scandal and dirt than any other game. Yet somehow, it seems to be covered up, usually from an incredible web of conflicts of interest. I promise to always tell the truth as I see it. Of course, I would appreciate it if you’d let me know when I’m wrong. I love sports arguments and hope to be in a few of them with you here. Personal info: One-handed backhand, serve-and-volleyer. View all posts by gregcouch

6 responses to “How a Tennis Fan Gets a Golf Fan all Uppity: Mention Simple Fact that Golf Isn’t a Sport

  • Andy Silverman

    8 reasons why tennis is not a sport:

    1. Maids bring the players towels between points so that they can wipe their hands.
    2. Fuzzy balls? Seriously?
    3. Women play this “sport” wearing dresses.
    4. And those women proceed to tuck extra balls into their underpants. Seriously?
    5. Little kids hold an umbrella over your head during the “change over” so that you don’t get too much sun. Seriously?
    6. Close calls are reviewed by looking at cartoons. That’s just plain nuts.
    7. Scoring zero points is “love”? That’s so sweet, but it sure as hell isn’t a sport.
    8. The referee sits on a lifeguard stand (with an umbrella over her head).

  • Molly Paul (Andy's golf widow)

    Um, dear,
    1. golfers attach those sweet towels to their bags – and use them to dry hands, balls, and who knows what else
    2. dimpled balls. I think this is even worse than fuzz
    3. men play this “sport” in pressed pants and leather belts, leather oxfords and WHITE leather gloves.
    4. and tuck those little throne-type thingies for their little dimpled balls into their pockets
    5. caddies carry your balls, your clubs, your cute little towels and even help you figure out how to PLAY
    6. golfers can;t play unless everyone stops talking – and breathing. Really. This is a not brain surgery.
    7. so little energy is used that golfers can play all day, day after day, and still maintain their beer bellies.
    8. and they smoke cigars and drink bloody marys at 8 a.m.

  • John JM

    Awesome. Do people who think golf is a sport also think the same about billiards and bowling? They also require specific physical skills. But their champions can also be old, fat, and slow. Just like golf =)

  • Is Tennis any more a Sport than Golf? A Reponse to Greg Couch « Tennisology 101

    […] An interesting article was published yesterday by Sporting News National Columnist Greg Couch titled, “How a Tennis Fan Gets a Golf Fan all Uppity: Mention Simple Fact that Golf Isn’t a Sport“. […]

  • Maxshade7

    First Id like to reply to the golf advocate… Does anyone know any golfers beside Tiger, Phil, and McElroy? e.g…. Darren Clarke? LOL!
    Golf is a sport but one of low impact. I define sport as an event or activitie where the contestants are given a set of rules and the contestants themselves dictate the winner according to that given set. That being said golf would be a low end physical sport like bowling, and poker, and chess. However I dont think figure skating is a sport. The contestants are at the mercy of judges. When it comes down to 2 perfect routines… give me a break…

  • nemo

    Frankly, who doesn’t matter how each individual interprets the word. According to the dictionary it is defines as :
    “An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others.”

    Where golf falls short is the physical exertion. And traditional sports have an offense and defense. Golf has neither.

    Golf is a competition, and it does take skill. But in order to play it, you do not even have to walk. And that comes from the U.S. supreme court.

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